Home & Garden Columns

East Bay Then and Now: This West Berkeley Landmark Is a Proud Survivor

By Daniella Thompson
Friday November 17, 2006

The Church of the Good Shepherd, situated on the corner of Ninth Street and Hearst Avenue, was one of the first nine structures designated City of Berkeley Landmarks on Dec. 15, 1975. It is the oldest church building standing in Berkeley, as well as the oldest in continuous use by its founding congregation in the entire East Bay. 

In its earlier years, the congregation included such prominent figures as Anna Head (1857–1932), founder of the famous preparatory school for girls; H.N. Marquand, publisher and proprietor of the Berkeley Advocate; and Zimri Brewer Heywood (1803–1879), Berkeley pioneer and owner of the Heywood lumber yard. 

The building originated with a women’s sewing society, which began collecting funds in 1877 to build an Episcopal church in West Berkeley. 

It was constructed in 1878, the year in which the City of Berkeley was incorporated. The architect, Charles L. Bugbee, modeled it after the Gothic Revival Mendocino Presbyterian Church designed a decade earlier by his father’s firm, S.C. Bugbee & Sons of San Francisco. 

In 1869, S.C. Bugbee & Sons was responsible for designing the California Theatre at 430 Bush St., between Kearny and Grant in San Francisco (California State Historic Landmark 86). It cost $150,000 and was for many years the city’s leading theatre. 

Also in 1869, S.C. Bugbee & Sons designed Mills Hall for Mills Seminary (now Mills College) in Oakland. That building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

An earlier version of Oakland City Hall reputedly was one of the firm’s commissions. In 1875, Sumner Bugbee was the architect of record for Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin’s Baldwin Theatre at the corner of Market and Powell Streets, to which a hotel was added in 1877 or ’78. 

Among the palatial Nob Hill residences designed by the firm was David Colton’s neoclassical mansion (1871–72) at the top of California Street, which later passed into the hands of Collis P. Huntington, and which architect Willis Polk in the 1890s would call “the most artistic [...] dwelling in the [...] city.” 

Next came Leland Stanford’s mansion (1875–76), which the San Francisco Chronicle described at the time as “the largest private residence in the state.” It was followed by Charles Crocker’s rococo mansion (1885), situated next door to the Colton residence. 

All three mansions burned in the 1906 fire. The Crocker and Colton palaces have been replaced with Grace Cathedral and Huntington Park, respectively, while the Stanford Court Hotel now stands on the site of Leland Stanford’s Mansion. 

Sumner Bugbee’s own house at 146 Lake St. in Oakland was far more modest. In its Victorian Stick style one can detect some of the same elements that appear on the Church of the Good Shepherd. 

Reflecting its Episcopalian denomination, the Church of the Good Shepherd is considerably more ornate and playful than its severe Presbyterian model in Mendocino. Here we find Victorian ornamentation on the façade walls and decorative shingle patterns on the spire roof. 

The building appears more earth-bound and less vertical than the Mendocino church, owing not only to the wider tower but also to the shape of the windows and the treatment of the belfry. 

This small church boasts no fewer than ten stained-glass windows—two large and eight small ones. The pseudo-Gothic buttresses “supporting” the tower and the chapel are hollow wooden boxes. The eighty-foot tower contains a thousand-pound Blymer bell. 

Until 1894, the latter fulfilled the double function of church bell and fire alarm. 

The building was renovated in 1978 with a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

While the exterior remains virtually unchanged, a few minor alterations were made to the interior. A Guild Hall was built in 1917, and a pastor’s house shortly thereafter. These were consolidated into a Parish Hall in 1959. 

The Church of the Good Shepherd was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. On Aug. 10, 2003 it celebrated its 125th anniversary. 

On that occasion the building was renovated again, with $70,000 raised by means of a capital campaign. In addition to receiving a structural upgrade, the church was painted in a handsome color scheme that emphasizes its Victorian style. 



Ornamentation in the neo-Gothic style abounds on the Church of the Good Shepherd exterior. Photograph by Daniella Thompson